Hydrodynamics of linear acceleration in bluegill sunfish, Lepomis macrochirus

The Journal of Experimental Biology
Tyler N WiseEric D Tytell


In their natural habitat, fish rarely swim steadily. Instead they frequently accelerate and decelerate. Relatively little is known about how fish produce extra force for acceleration in routine swimming behavior. In this study, we examined the flow around bluegill sunfish Lepomis macrochirus during steady swimming and during forward acceleration, starting at a range of initial swimming speeds. We found that bluegill produce vortices with higher circulation during acceleration, indicating a higher force per tail beat, but they do not substantially redirect the force. We quantified the flow patterns using high speed video and particle image velocimetry and measured acceleration with small inertial measurement units attached to each fish. Even in steady tail beats, the fish accelerates slightly during each tail beat, and the magnitude of the acceleration varies. In steady tail beats, however, a high acceleration is followed by a lower acceleration or a deceleration, so that the swimming speed is maintained; in unsteady tail beats, the fish maintains the acceleration over several tail beats, so that the swimming speed increases. We can thus compare the wake and kinematics during single steady and unsteady tail beats that have the s...Continue Reading


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